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In the late eighteenth century, decentralized and chaotic government in Egypt allowed women a freedom of action that has not been equaled until recent times. Delving extensively into archival sources, Afaf Marsot presents the first comprehensive picture of women's status and opportunities in this period.
Marsot makes important connections between forms of government, economic possibilities, and gender relations, showing how political instability allowed women to acquire property, independent of males, as a hedge against political uncertainty. She traces the linkages that women formed among themselves and with the ulama (non-Ottoman native elites) who aided and supported them. The book concludes with a comparison of women's status in the nineteenth century, when the introduction of European institutions that did not recognize their legal existence marginalized women, causing them to have to rely on men as major breadwinners. These important findings about the relationship between forms of government and the status of women will be of interest to a wide audience.